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fostering the humanistic practice of medicine publishing personal accounts of illness and healing encouraging health care advocacy

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April 2010

Making Headlines

Reeta Mani

“Did he die of swine flu?” demanded a scrawny man wearing a blue shirt and green surgical mask. He was one of a throng of news reporters packing the lobby of a private hospital in the heart of Bangalore, my city.

It was early August 2009, and India had just recorded its first casualty from the novel H1N1 influenza virus. This latest variant of influenza–a chimera of swine, avian and human flu genes–was raising grave concerns among the medical community worldwide. To try to contain a pandemic, countries were ordering stockpiles of antiviral drugs and initiating vaccine production on a wartime footing. 

In Bangalore, as elsewhere, you could pick up any newspaper or watch any news channel and see headlines screaming “Swine Flu!” Men, women and children wore masks of all sizes, shapes and hues. Paranoia was at its peak: An innocuous sneeze could make people run helter-skelter for cover.

A few H1N1 cases had been confirmed in Bangalore, but fortunately none had been fatal. The local media, on the alert 24-7, were hounding any doctor associated with the diagnosis or treatment » Continue Reading.

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Triptych for John

Yun Lan

Part I: The first time I saw you

I met John 
without introduction.
cold hand.

Part II: Cadaver as Decapod

John was surely a hermit crab, having four small limbs to anchor the body and six long
limbs to advance it. He gathered sea anemones on his back, and weeds in his spiny beard. He bore
stellate scars, the digitated marks of five pointed teeth. There was a constellation of them, surely
from the care of blue spined urchins. The urchins couldn’t make him stay. Did they evict him or 
had he just outgrown his home?

Surely, his soft belly was turned out to the brine, the ocean full of predators. In each eye of
many lenses, what did he see? Was he afraid to scuttle from this white ribbed shell to the larger?
Perhaps not. He trusted he could replace his old limbs. He could carry anemones to protect him.
He would fear neither octopus, nor fellow crabs, nor stars. 

We can pick at the questions, we each with ten limbs: sharp scissors, blunt scissors, olive
point probe, teasing wooden handled straight needle, thumb forceps, “fitted teeth” tissue forceps
with 1×2 jaws,

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The University Hospital of Somewhere Else

Paula Lyons

July 1. My first day as a family medicine intern, assigned to Labor and Delivery, and my first night on call, 6 pm sharp. Enviously, I watched the other interns smartly packing up to go home.

“See you in the morning–maybe!” they joked.

I glanced at the status board: eight patients in labor. And now I was “in charge,” at least in name, till 7 am report tomorrow.

Several chaotic hours later, I finished helping a Guatemalan mother of five to deliver her sixth son. My hands were trembling.

Toweling the plucky little newborn dry, I admitted the truth: Despite my University Hospital’s proud reputation as a maternity center, this woman would probably have done as well or better in her own warm, clean, cilantro-scented kitchen. At best, I was superfluous; at worst, a comical hindrance.

In shaky Spanish, I told her, “Su hijo es muy guapo y tiene salud!” (Your son is very handsome and healthy.)

“Lo se,” she replied, smiling. “Tranquila, doctorita. Todo estara bien.” (I know, little doctor. Be calm, all will be well.)

Washing my hands after the next

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Babel: The Voices of a Medical Trauma

Editor’s Note: This week, on the eve of Pulse‘s second anniversary, we offer a remarkable piece. It is the true story of a hospitalization as told from three points of view: first, the recollections of the patient (who happens to be a physician); second, events as recorded in the medical charts by doctors and nurses; and third, the version put forth by the hospital.


It is fall 2005, and I am nine months pregnant. A healthy 33-year-old pediatrician, I am a longtime patient of Doctor A and Doctor B, who delivered my two young children at this hospital. My husband and I are eagerly anticipating the birth of our third child.
One evening after dinner, the contractions start coming every five minutes. My husband and I pack our bags and drive to the hospital. I am nearly 4 cm dilated. After observation, Doctor C calls Doctor A, makes a diagnosis of false labor and sends us home. 

9:25 pm: 33 year old gravida 3, para 2, 38 5/7 week seen in office this AM almost 3 cm. Negative PMHx, c/o contractions q 5 min. Cervix

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Depression Session

Abby Caplin


The chopped apple of her father’s eye,
She tastes the grapes of her mother’s drunken wrath
The barely visible slivers of silver-tongued almond
Needle her intestines as she savors
The seedless watermelon of fruitless friendships,
And endures the hard rind 
Of a body gone awry, 
To be chewed and chewed until swallowed or
Spat out. A salad of sorts
Surrounded by lemons
Home-grown, organic, bitter
And full of juice. She brings me a tough
Clear plastic bag filled with them
To our session.
“They’re the last of the season,” she tells me.
I pray this is true,
While at home, I pore through cookbooks, 
Searching for yet another recipe. 

About the poet:

Abby Caplin MD MA practices mind-body medicine and counseling in San Francisco. She helps people living with chronic medical conditions to lead empowered and vibrant lives, reclaiming their wholeness despite illness ( Abby also offers a weblog, Permission to Heal, for people who are “up in the middle of the night or down in the middle of the day” because of illness.

About the poem:

When sitting with clients, I hold the space to hear

Depression Session Read More »

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